Ode [We are the Music Makers]
by Arthur O’Shaughnessy
An introduction … The life of artists has seldom been a bed of roses. Winning accolades, or even earning enough to make both ends meet from this profession is, in most cases, an uphill task. The doyen of British novelists, George Bernard Shaw was turned away by as many as five publishers, when he approached them with his manuscript of Pygmalion. Renowned music composers like Arcangelo Corelli of Italy had to struggle hard before he could earn a decent income. Scores of poets, the world over, died paupers despite their exceptional contribution to literature. Such is the risk associated with the desire to pursue music as a profession.
However, it can surely be said that the world would have been a barren place without the music fraternity. Music touches our heart and enlivens our existence in this dry, mundane world. Music and the many other forms of art have great recreational value for the public, and are created by an intoxicating creative desire on the part of the artists. They create the music, but their lives are beset with problems. Despite the suffering, they prod on. This poem is an ode to these great sons and daughters of Mother Earth.
We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;
World losers and world forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
Meaning of the 1st stanza … The poet eulogizes the contribution of the musical fraternity towards the enrichment of life on earth. He says that the music-maker’s hand is behind all the epoch-making happenings in the world, be it revolutions, social reform, philanthropy, performing arts etc. The poet narrates how the creators of such brilliant pieces of art willingly endure hardships, seclusion, and agony to be able to create something genuine. They walk alone in sea beeches, along streams flowing through uninhabited areas, away from their families, before they give shape to their creative urge. The ‘music makers’ may seem hopeless eccentrics, but they are the people who trigger changes in the society. The lives of the artists are riddled with difficulties because making money from music does not come easily. These people forsake worldly comforts and embrace seclusion, so that they could produce stirring works. The ‘pale moon’ refers to the tribulations they face in life.
With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities.
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.
Meaning of the 2nd stanza.. A ‘ditty’ is a short and simple song. At times, some of these songs can stir emotions unleashing humongous energy in the listeners and the reciters. Building a city calls for garnering of huge amounts of resources in terms of materials, labour, and above all, extraordinary architectural creativity. Such confluence of material and intellectual resources is pivotal to the building a city that symbolizes the best of any nation or culture. Quite understandably, the visualizers and builders of a city must muster enough will power and tenacity to carry their project to fruition. Songs, written with immortal inspirational value, help to spur the army of builders to work hard to make a new city see the light of the day. This is why ‘ditties’ are important, as are the writers who pen them. The stories they write using their imagination, are later used to spin highly glorified and exaggerated accounts of empires. In the story, a man in his dream, goes on a military expedition to conquer lands, vanquishing the kings and emperors there. These stories often are identified with the land of the conqueror. Successive generations read them to draw inspiration from them.
We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.
Meaning of the 3rd stanza .. The city Nineveh was built drawing inspiration from the musical works of a few brilliant music creators. The city stood till the 612 BC when it was pulled down and buried. The city Babel came up because an army of architects, engineers, and laborers worked furtively day and night. Some music compositions inspired them and unleashed colossal creativity in the construction site. The remarkable thing is that the flow of music through the minds of the artists never stops. It continues to flourish in all ages, even under the most stifling political environment. This is the strength of the ‘music makers’. They are termed ‘movers and shakers’ because they help to bring about momentous changes in society, and help to root out the most entrenched hideous elements.
Questions and answers …
- Why is the life of artists so full of difficulties? Answer … Artists are creative people. They indulge in their forms of art purely driven by an inner urge, an inner voice. The emotion inside their minds finds expression in their artistic creations. This is true for writers, poets, musicians, painters, sculptors, and dancers. The more passionate they are, the better is their art. Seldom, we will find a top artist producing a spectacular piece of art for commercial profit. This singular absence of profit brings them much misery. The celebrated Dutch painter Van Gogh died a pauper because he couldn’t sell a single piece of his work. Despite, such hardship, artists continue to do their work.
- Why are the artists called ‘movers and shakers’? Answer …Behind every momentous change in society in all lands and in all ages, there has been a driving force that galvanizes people behind a cause. This is why it is said that ‘Pen is mightier than the sword.’ Our national anthem was written by Tagore when the nation was seeking a rallying cry. Bankim Chandra wrote ‘Vande Mataram’ that rekindles our patriotic feelings. Victor Hugho’s Les Miserables shook the conscience of French people that led to wholesale reform of their oppressive prison system. Countless such examples can be cited to show that artists have profoundly influenced human thinking in all ages across geographies. The liberal caring society we enjoy today wouldn’t have been a reality, if the music makers wouldn’t have tried to purge the society of its evils. This is why they are called the ‘Movers and Shakers’.
- Write the Analysis of the poem in 300-350 words. [Will be posted soon.]